Advent Midweek Worship
December 6, 2017
“Great Songs of Advent, Part 1”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
What would Christmas be without music? Empty. Quiet. There have been some folks listening to Christmas music already for a month and they won’t tire of it through the New Year. Silent Night. Away In A Manger. Joy To The World. They all have something to do with what this time is, how unique and joy-filled it can be.
This evening and on the 13th and 20th I will be speaking about the great songs of Advent. Tonight is Mary’s Song – the Magnificat; next Wednesday will be Zechariah’s Song (He is the father of John the Baptist), his song is the Benedictus; and on the night we have Advent by Candlelight I’ll speak about the Song of Simeon – the Nunc Dimittis. These are the great songs of Advent.
Please find this passage in Luke 1:46-56 (page 1042 in the pew Bible) and read it with me.
Great songs have some history to them. I don’t think Mary was welcome in Nazareth, pregnant and not married. She left her town to go visit Elizabeth, her relative, who also was pregnant with John the Baptist. Her trip gave her time to think. When she gives us the 10 verses of the Magnificat she is borrowing words from Hannah, the mother of Samuel (see I Samuel 2:1-10). Hannah had tried for years to have a child with her husband, but she didn’t conceive. In I Samuel 1 it says, “Her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.” (Verse 6) It gets worse – “Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (Verse 7) Her husband loved her and had a heart for her pain. But she had no child. Her heart was heavy and she faced bitter remarks from others constantly.
But in time God gave Hannah a son, Samuel, and her song became Mary’s song. “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance… He [The Lord] raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” (I Samuel 2:1,8)
Mary spoke words like this, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great thing for me…He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-49a, 52-53)
Great songs have great stories behind them. They are not written in a make-believe world but are born out of struggle and loss and pain. Just like Hannah, Mary speaks about praise to God who changes life in unexpected and great ways. Humble Mary, the one who had the question about the news that Gabriel shared with her about being pregnant, “How will this be since I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34), is the one who can now say, “All generations will call me blessed.”
Great songs talk about a great God. When I type in Magnificat into my computer it always gives me a red line under the word. That means that I have spelled it incorrectly. I have thanked my computer many times for helping me with spelling. So I give my mouse a right click to find out what I did wrong and it tells me that Magnificat should be spelled magnificent. In a way they are right. The word means to magnify and to glorify, to speak unending praise. It is only someone or something that is magnificent that would land such adoration.
Great songs do that. They speak about God without reservation concerning His goodness, His strength, His help and the hope that He alone brings. Martin Luther about all this wrote: “Just as a book title indicates what is the contents of the book, so this word ‘magnifies’ is used by Mary to indicate whather hymn of praise is to be about, namely, the great works and deeds of God, for the strengthening of our faith, for the comforting of all those of low degree, and for the terrifying of all the mighty ones of earth. We are to let the hymn serve this threefold purpose: for she sang it not for herself alone but for all of us, to sing it after her.” (Luther’s Works, 21:306)
Great songs, this great song, tell us about an unexpected outcome. One thing is expected but something different happens. You brace for the worst but God does the best. Hannah was prepared to be the recipient of cruel words for the rest of her life, but she can say, in light of God’s magnificent hand, “Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (I Samuel 2:5)
Mary would speak about the proud who are scattered and the humble who are lifted up. In that time when we understand our sin and come with broken hearts and messed-up lives, this God, this magnificent God would forgive and heal and strengthen and bring hope.
Some songs have little content – nothing of lasting substance. Some songs offer little hope – another dismal day to endure is all they can offer. But not the great songs of Advent. This song has history to it – written about the uncertainty of what these women – Hannah and Mary – were facing. It tells us who stands at the center of it – our God who deserves all praise for what He does. It shows us how he changes the hopeless situation into one that is filled with hope. And this great song tells us that He does it for us. We are the one He concerns Himself with. Our lives are important to Him.
Find it. Read it again. The Magnificat. Luke 1:46-56. (Page 1042) This is the time of the year for some great music. This is one of the great hymns of Advent. Amen!!